If “Attica” is just a line you recognize from the movie Dog Day Afternoon, you should watch the Oscar-nominated, 2021 documentary of that name.
Now, if you were around then, you will discover a lot of details that you forgot, or more likely, did not know at all about one of the most significant prison riots in the United States. “This unnervingly vivid dive into the 1971 uprising… sheds new light on the enduring violence and racism of the prison system…”
A little over half of the approximately 2,200 prisoners took over the facility on September 9, taking 42 staff hostage. They had tired of their brutalizing conditions and sought to be treated like human beings. The stories in the film were told by some of the former prisoners. As one critic correctly notes, “I don’t think Attica glorifies the prisoners, but it does humanize them. That is, it presents them as human beings.”
There were four days of negotiations, including with the state Commissioner of Corrections, Russell G. Oswald. While there were some prisoners who wanted to hold Oswald and other negotiators hostage as well, the prisoner leadership opposed this, saying that they should deal in good faith.
Other people interviewed in the documentary included the families of the guards held hostage. Attica is a small town in rural Wyoming County, southwest of Rochester and southeast of Buffalo. The Department of Corrections is the major employer. Most of the prison personnel were white local folks, while most of the prisoners were black and/or Hispanic, creating a definite culture clash beyond the guard/prisoner dynamic.
During the negotiations, authorities agreed to 28 of the prisoners’ demands. But they would not agree to complete amnesty for the inmates involved with the prison takeover.
Nixon’s the one
The film shares audiotape of Nelson Rockefeller conferring with Richard M. Nixon. The governor assured the President that he would not accede to the demands to go to Attica, a position that Nixon applauded. Then on September 13, Rocky ordered armed corrections officers, and state and local police to retake the prison.
The next thing that happened, you may know. Or not, as disinformation was sent out by Rocky himself, disputed initially by ABC News reporter John Johnson and soon by medical examiners.
But it is what happened AFTER the siege that I had never heard about or seen before. It was quite disturbing in its own right. And that’s the strange thing about the movie. If you don’t know how the story ends, you might get three-quarters of the way through and still hold out for a happy ending.
The movie by writer/director Stanley Nelson got positive reviews from 50 of 51 critics. And the 51st has a snippet that says, “Extraordinary archival footage… You can’t just dismiss it as hyperbole.” I watched it on Amazon Prime.
abused the power of the Presidency for personal and political gain
Erie County’s best blogger and writer, Jaquandor, a/k/a Kelly Sedinger, starts off this round of Ask Roger Anything.
We’re entering the second impeachment trial of my life (and there should have been a third, had Nixon not read the writing on the wall). Are you tired of these things?
The nature of the three impeachment procedures I lived through – I just missed Andrew Johnson’s – are so different. In Watergate, as you may remember, the beginning of the scandal was the break-in in June 1972. It was dismissed as a “third-rate burglary” by Nixon’s Press Secretary, Ron Ziegler. Nixon was re-elected so easily that the networks called the election c 7:30 pm before I had even had a chance to vote.
Yet early in 1973, the Senate voted 77-to-0 to approve a “select committee” to investigate Watergate, with Sam Ervin (D-NC) named chairman. The hearings ran from mid-May until early August, and I watched quite a bit of it. It was shown by the three networks in rotation, so as not to tick off the soap opera fans too much.
But it got a whole lot more interesting in mid-July when White House assistant Alexander Butterfield acknowledged there was a taping system in the Oval Office. At some point, I was watching every day when I wasn’t in class. A special prosecutor, Archibald Cox, subpoenaed the tapes, as did the Senate. Nixon got all “executive privilege”.
Then there was the “Saturday Night Massacre” on October 20, 1973. Attorney General Elliot Richardson and Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus, who recently died, both resigned rather than fire Cox. The Solicitor General, Robert Bork, finally did. The public, who had voted for the man less than a year earlier, were generally displeased.
On March 1, 1974, a grand jury in Washington, D.C., indicted several former aides of Nixon, including H. R. Haldeman, John Ehrlichman, former Attorney General John N. Mitchell, and Charles Colson, for hindering the Watergate investigation. The grand jury secretly named Nixon as an unindicted co-conspirator. John Dean and others had already pleaded guilty.
Nixon lost in the Supreme Court over whether he could hide the tapes. He turned them over in July 1974. About the time the “smoking gun” tapes were released implicating Nixon, the House Judiciary Committee voted to approve three articles of impeachment over four days. As you know, Nixon resigned less than two weeks later at the urging of some Republicans.
As much as I despised Nixon’s policies, I didn’t feel a sense of elation when he announced he was stepping down. It was more, as Gerald Ford put it soon after, “our national nightmare is over.”
Now Bill Clinton’s impeachment I was aware of, but I certainly didn’t watch any of the Senate trial. Before that, as I mentioned at some point, I was in the same Boston hotel as Bill Clinton in September 1998. I was there to be on JEOPARDY! Clinton was there for a political fundraiser. No, I never saw him.
There were thousands of protesters outside the Omni Parker House (?). About half of them thought Bill was awful. But the other half thought Ken Starr was terrible. This was the early days of the Internet, so such explicit info some considered unsavory, and they blamed Starr.
When it all went down, I felt bad for Hillary and especially Chelsea. But I didn’t watch the proceedings at all. I did follow the news, though. It was right that Bill Clinton apologized to the country. Some of the chief GOP accusers, it later came out, had no right to the moral high ground.
That’s what I did with the 2019 story as well. There was so much wall-to-wall coverage that I was feeling no need to watch in real time. I will say I thought, even before the fact, that forcing Robert Mueller to testify was a mistake. He said as much. Mueller had a part in getting several indictments or guilty pleas.
I did see snippets of a lot of compelling testimony from the hearings in the fall. Gordon Sundland, the EU coordinator, political fundraiser, and definitely not of the “deep state”, was oddly entertaining. The others were solid citizens, doing their duty to their country.
Rudy Guiliani, an extra-governmental figure, by his own admission, forced out the Ukrainian ambassador back in April. So the claim that the July phone call with the new Ukrainian president was “perfect” is rather beside the point. It was, as John Bolton said, akin to a drug deal. The man abused the power of the Presidency for personal and political gain. He obstructed Congress illegally, which was settled law when SCOTUS ruled Nixon had to turn over his tapes.
He encouraged foreign entities to stay at his properties with the suggestion that it’d be in their countries’ best interest. The Air Force refueling near his Scottish resort, and staying there longer than necessary. (If the G7 did stay at Mar-a-lago, that would be prima facie proof of corruption.)
Yeah, he should have been impeached. But since the charges won’t stick, I suppose there is some fatigue on my part. A lot of it is towards the 2019 GOP, which is not the 1974 GOP. You can say you don’t believe the charges reach the level of impeachment, as Will Hurd (R-TX) stated. But to say things that happen didn’t happen, even though Guiliani, Mick Mulvaney and the man himself have acknowledged them publicly, that’s exhausting.
One more thing
The suggestion that because he’s “doing a good job”, one shouldn’t impeach a president is weird to me. Let’s say that he did something clearly a high crime or misdemeanor. He shoots someone on Fifth Avenue, for which one of his lawyers claims he couldn’t be prosecuted. Would you not impeach him – it’s always him – because the unemployment rate is 3.5%?
On the other hand, I would oppose impeaching him because of policies I disagree with. And I disagree a lot. Or because he’s a vulgar and boorish liar; those are not reasons to impeach.
CITING THE PRESIDENT $400: In the 1970s: “When the president does it, that means that it is not illegal”
CITING THE PRESIDENT $800: In the 1970s: “Our long national nightmare is over”
CITING THE PRESIDENT $1200: “I do not expect the Union to be dissolved–I do not expect the house to fall–but I do expect it will cease to be divided”
CITING THE PRESIDENT $2000: In an early 20th c. message to Congress: “We have stood apart, studiously neutral”
CITING THE PRESIDENT $2,000 (Daily Double): In the early 20th c.: “I took the canal zone, & let Congress debate, & while the debate goes on the canal does also”
JEOPARDY! game #7806 aired 2018-07-16
4, 4 (two words, each with four letters) $1000: In 1848 Martin Van Buren was the presidential candidate of this party that opposed slavery in western territories
JEOPARDY! game #7868 aired 2018-11-21
PRESIDENTIAL IRONY, Final Jeopardy! 1 of the 2 Presidents who offered Daniel Webster the VP slot; he declined both, thinking the job went nowhere.
“The unrestricted competition so commonly advocated does not leave us the survival of the fittest. The unscrupulous succeed best in accumulating wealth.” Rutherford B. Hayes
Franklin D. Roosevelt’s State of the Union Message to Congress, January 11, 1944, including the Second Bill of Rights:
“We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence… People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.
“In our day these economic truths have become accepted as self-evident. We have accepted, so to speak, a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all — regardless of station, race, or creed.”
“I don’t give them Hell. I just tell the truth about them, and they think it’s Hell.” – Harry S Truman, 1948
“If a political party does not have its foundation in the determination to advance a cause that is right and that is moral, then it is not a political party; it is merely a conspiracy to seize power.” – Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1956
The Milton argument regarding prohibition against prior restraint is fundamental to the US Constitution.
The New York State Writers Institute, a local treasure, offered a two-day, six-panel “symposium of topics crucial to an open democratic society” called Telling the Truth in a Post-truth World. The session I attended the evening of Friday the 13th of October at Page Hall on the UAlbany Downtown Campus, was “Presidents and the Press: Trump, Nixon & More.”
The moderator of the panel was Bob Schieffer, moderator of three presidential debates and former anchor of CBS Evening News and Face the Nation
The panelists included:
*Douglas Brinkley, CNN Presidential historian and biographer of Teddy Roosevelt, FDR, Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford
*Amy Goodman, investigative reporter, host and producer of the award-winning news program, Democracy Now! that airs on over 1,400 public television and radio stations worldwide
*Harry Rosenfeld, Times Union editor-at-large, and former Metro Editor at The Washington Post who oversaw the paper’s coverage of Watergate
*Shane Goldmacher, chief White House correspondent for POLITICO, who previously reported on the 2016 Republican presidential primary campaign
There were some interesting moments, such as when Schieffer, who I’ve watched for decades, suggested that Goodman, who had a LOT of fans in the audience, was positing her opinions as facts, citing Daniel Patrick Moynihan. However, Goodman did note that it was important that the corporate media defend itself from attack from the regime.
Americans tend to think of freedom of the press as a uniquely American ideal that has spread throughout the world. But that value was codified more than a century earlier.
From here: “In 1644 the English poet and man of letters, John Milton, published the Areopagitica as an appeal to Parliament to rescind their Licensing Order of June 16th, 1643. This order was designed to bring publishing under government control by creating a number of official censors to whom authors would submit their work for approval prior to having it published. Milton’s argument, in brief, was that precensorship of authors was little more than an excuse for state control of thought.”
Although the freedom expressed took a half century to come to pass in Great Britain, the Milton argument regarding prohibition against prior restraint, or pre-publication censorship, is fundamental to the US Constitution. Threatening censorship prior to publication, as the current regime is suggesting, would have a chilling effect on expression and speech, and would interfere with the pursuit of truth.
George Washington’s first inaugural address (April 1789), referring to himself: “One, who, inheriting inferior endowments from nature and unpractised in the duties of civil administration, ought to be peculiarly conscious of his own deficiencies.”
Sarah Knox Taylor, the second daughter of Zachary Taylor and the first Mrs. Jefferson Davis
This is an actual standard fantasy I’ve had over the years: I’m captured, and the Americans think I’m a spy. I name all the Presidents correctly, including the year entering the office and political party – I really CAN do that – then they shoot me, because OBVIOUSLY, I’m a Soviet/Russian/Chinese spy, since NOBODY knows Millard Fillmore (1850-1853, Whig), who was New York State Comptroller before becoming Vice-President.
Worst president ever: The ignominy of James Buchanan – On the way to the Capitol for the inauguration of his successor on March 4, 1861, Buchanan told Abraham Lincoln, “If you are as happy in entering the White House as I shall feel on returning to Wheatland [his home in Pennsylvania], you are a happy man indeed.”
Lincoln’s First Inaugural Address (1861) “We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battle-field and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”
Lyndon Johnson Speech Before Congress on Voting Rights (March 15, 1965): “There is no Negro problem. There is no Southern problem. There is no Northern problem. There is only an American problem. And we are met here tonight as Americans—not as Democrats or Republicans–we are met here as Americans to solve that problem.”